Research Portfolio Post #5: Puzzle Proposal

    1. I am proposing to research female infanticide
    2.  because I want to find out what explains the resilience/persistence of son preference
    3. in order to help my reader, understand how women’s decisions to commit infanticide within changing fertility and economic landscapes can be continually reinforced

In reading Amartya Sen’s 100 Million Missing Women,[1] I was most interested in factors influencing women’s decisions as well as women’s choices within societal constraints but upon reading a critique of Sen’s framework, I began to see a gap in understanding on the role and influence of certain factors in women’s decisions to commit infanticide. In the critique, Amartya Sen’s 100 Million Women, Croll states that “the status of women and discrimination against girls has shown that improvements in women’s education and economic status may be associated with fertility decline but do not necessarily lead to reduced son preference”[2].

If we investigate son preference as a constant within the literature of infanticide, then what explains women’s continued decisions to commit infanticide or sex-selective abortions. How is son preference understood by the literature and by mothers and society itself? And how is son preference so persistent and seemingly resistant to certain demographic trends than others?

Demographic transitions and changing the landscape of fertility has placed increasing emphasis on women’s decisions within these changing contexts as policy-relevant to broader issues of sex ratio will be required to better understand the existence and continuation of son preference.

In a 2017 survey study by Economic Survey, on son preference, women’s agency was evaluated using 17 variables on women-specific issues such as how involved they were in decisions concerning their own health, contraception, education and most notably “prefer more or equal number of daughters over sons”[3].

The growth and increased availability and access to sex determination technologies have greater facilitated decreased fertility but have facilitated means of implementing son preference however technology should be considered as a tool in which son preferences are enacted rather than a solution and my puzzle would like at the consequences of such tools on facilitating preference an and how preference interact with innovation.

Son preference is outlined as a cultural custom of “cultural embeddedness” or cultural “determinants” (discussed in RPP4) but exists in the literature as a socially reinforced behavior. Professor Zhu of Xi’An Jiaotong University stated in the “Care of Girls” campaign that “Bias against girls is not something new; it has existed for a long time in [China’s] history” [4]. Zhu’s claim echoes many of the scholar’s assumptions of son prevalence as inherent and seemingly unchanging. Bongaarts claims son preference as “ a long-standing cultural preference” [5] and elaborates on the implementation of such cultural customs through infanticide and sex-selective abortion but this and literature that assume that preference itself continues to exist and will continue to exist on the basis of cultural but rather does not ask why preference is seen as the constant and if that is necessarily true in terms of policy solutions.

Within foundational research, the preference of sons is based on two questions: (1) does son preference exist and (2) why does son preference exist? These questions also frame an assumption in the literature on fertility data and sex ratio being indicative of son preference as seen in Gupta et al claim that decreased fertility ‘intensified’ sex bias [6]. Furthermore,

The economic and social analyses fail to explain women’s decisions to continue to act within the discovery of their own or society’s preference. They recognize the existence and claim to explain preference but do not assess women’s relative understanding of preference and subsequent response (infanticide, abortion etc) in spite of this knowledge. If policy intends to asses these preferences a greater emphasis on gender equality and social campaigns may help to counterbalance or at least recognize additional factors contributing to preference. Furthermore, fertility understood through policy framework does not intend to explain the continuation and prevalence of certain cultural embed or engrained practices that can greatly contradict well-intentioned rationale and rather create an opportunity to improve the framework and reassert the narrative of women and mothers


If we can greater understand the landscape that women are navigating in terms of their decisions to commit infanticide, we can greater understand women’s roles. Demographic trend and fertility transitions as they relate to women’s decision to commit infanticide are significant as it intends to question assumptions of women’s situations and thus disabled assumptions of women acting in constraint but rather acting upon greater resource and availability of fertility tools but rather what are the cultural mentalities surrounding these increasingly independent solutions.


  • What explains the persistence of son preference?
  • What explains regional son preference differences between India’s North and South



[1] Amartya Sen, “More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing,” December 20, 1990,

[2] Elisabeth J. Croll, “Amartya Sen’s 100 Million Missing Women,” Oxford Development Studies 29, no. 3 (October 2001): 225–44,

[3] Subramania Bharati, “Pudumai Pen”, Maithlisharan Gupt, “Gender and Son Meta-Preference: Is Development Itself an Antidote?”, Economic Survey 2017-18, no.1 (2017): 102-118,

[4] “Care for Girls Gaining Momentum” China Daily, July 8 2004,

[5] John Bongaarts, “The Implementation of Preferences for Male Offspring,” Population and Development Review 39, no. 2 (2013): 185–208.

[6] Monica Das Gupta and P. N. Mari Bhat, “Fertility Decline and Increased Manifestation of Sex Bias in India,” Population Studies 51, no. 3 (1997): 307–15.

Research Portfolio Post #4: Article Comparison

Mitra claims continued son preference persists despite economic developments and educational advances for women. The cultural embeddedness of son preference derives from the “interplay of economics, religion and culture”. [1]  Therefore, son preference is demonstrated as a culturally embedded phenomenon, reinforced by patriarchal systems and women’s lowered status.

Mitra uses a Small-n (NP) case study analysis of India using qualitative surveys and census data such as sex ratio and infant mortality rates. Using this data to evaluate trends across India’s 29 states and create “social indicators” outside of wealth and economic factors, contributing to son preference. Indicating patterns and trends of son preference in light of economic and social progress.

Gupta et al. claim the devaluation of women both in society and economically results from a societal emphasis on Kinship and that continued preference for sons are due to their perceived social and economic value. Son preference is “culturally determined”, a product of culture, and as a result economic incentives and utilization for sons dictate this continued trend of preference.[2] Illustrates that kinship logic and processes are ingrained in the culture.

Gupta et al. take an Interpretivist approach through the use of country-specific examples, narratives, and interviews to create a cross-national comparative study that highlights cross-cultural similarities and differences. An ethnography on the nature and course of son preference across cultures.

Both articles conclude solutions that emphasize the value of women and incentivize the societal and cultural development of women as to be equally valuable as men. Their distinct difference is in the way they have evaluated culture as playing a large factor but as either culturally derived or culturally determined.

Mitra and Gupta et al. articles provide a broader context to my own topic by discussing factors impacting and influencing female infanticide and the suggestion of infanticide as an implementation of such. Seeking to understand my puzzle not as another explanation of infanticide but as an explanation and insight into the multilayered decision making process. Help to create a greater understanding of the overarching ideas contributing and surrounding scholarly conversations related to my topic.

[1] Mitra, Aparna. “Son Preference in India: Implications for Gender Development.” Journal of Economic Issues 48, no. 4 (December 2014): 1021-1037.

[2] Monica Das Gupta et al., “Why Is Son Preference so Persistent in East and South Asia? A Cross-Country Study of China, India and the Republic of Korea,” The Journal of Development Studies 40, no. 2 (December 1, 2003): 153–87,

Research Portfolio Post #3: Philosophical Wagers

We define ontology as “the beliefs about the nature of reality”[1] i.e. how research seeks to understand the world and the research within it. Methodology is defined as “a study of methods and the logic of how researchers select their tools for data collection and analysis”[2] i.e. the tool kit for researchers to draw from and use as they conduct their research and thus facilitate understandings of realities.

I’ve been conceptualizing methodology and ontology not as wholly separate things but interrelated within the research process. Methodology is more blatant and in times easier to understand and visualize. Such as Edelstein’s small-NP with explicit variables and hypothesis that get to the logic of data such as measuring occupation within the realities of war[3]. Ontology gets to the very essence of research and inquiry: understanding the world around us and seems to be both broad and ambitious in a way that is harder to conceptualize but something that is highly valuable. I think ontology is demonstrated largely through the methodology. As researchers selectively choose their approaches and methodologies based on the aspects within the problems they see and how to explain them within the constraints of reality.

I think it’s difficult to ask for a researcher to be truly objective. As Abbott mentions, researchers should have “passionately disinterested curiosity” [4] a curiosity or interest that is passionate but not overly involved but not so detached that the topic is lacking. I think Abbott captures my own sense that there should be a balance between necessary objectivity and subjectivity.  In which biases and perspectives can drive passion and interest which make research topics or puzzles so puzzling.

A lack of objectivity is an issue of validity, in which credibility is being questioned and the researcher’s opinion becomes ‘biased’ but if we think of objectivity as relative than we are less willing to dismiss works solely on such a black-white basis. For example, Weeden’s perspective as a scholar writing about Syria from as a foreign outsider and using M’s Story to illustrate a connection of political symbols in Syria[5] could be both an issuer of objectivity and supporter of it. Weeden may lack objectivity on issues of cultural meaning within M’s story but maybe more objective in critiquing Syrian political control. In this way, an outside perspective adds to the credibility of the work as well as translate the issue, political control, to a wider audience. Therefore, objectivity becomes necessary in context.

I would want to research the broader context surrounding my topic, such as, external social factors that illustrate the environment and realities women face. Although I cannot yet make fully valid knowledge claims about women’s positions in society, I can say that the interests of women and the interests of their society are in opposition; conflicting and disabling in a way that leads to a bigger question of how women and their status are continually minimized. What can be done and how does this conflict arise? Is it inevitable or by design? These are questions that could lead to my puzzle and further my research.

[1] Boesenecker, Aaron. The Philosophy of Science: Discovering Our Intellectual Commitments, PPT Presentation,  SISU-206 Research, 2019.

[2] Boesenecker, Aaron. The Philosophy of Science: Discovering Our Intellectual Commitments, PPT Presentation,  SISU-206 Research, 2019.

[3] Edelstein, David M.  Occupational Hazards: Why Military Occupations Succeed or Fail, International Security 29, no. 1 (Summer 2004), 49-91.

[4] Abbott, Andrew Delano. Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences / Andrew Abbott. (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2004), 247.

[5] Wedeen, Lisa. Acting As If Symbolic Politics and Social Control in Syria. Comparative Studies in Society and History 40, no. 3 (July 1, 1998)

Research Portfolio Post #2: Mentor Meeting

My Olson faculty advisor is Professor Jordanna Matlon, who has a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California Berkley and focuses on Black Masculinity. She explores gender and society in an urban setting, particularly, the relationship between gender, race and capitalism and many of her fieldwork was based in Cote’D’ivoire.

I met with Professor Matlon this past week (Wednesday 9/4), for about an hour (2:30-3:30) discussing mostly her work and my research interests and questions. Together we collectively brainstormed on resources, research approaches and challenges as well as discussed scholarly debates. Prof. Matlon was very helpful in outline my interests and constructive in how to create and understand research perspectives.

In the first part of our meeting, I mentioned the issue I was having in choosing between Transcendental and Situated Knowledge. As a sociologist, Prof. Matlon suggested I “throw it[transcendental] out the window” in conveying that Situated Knowledge, in respect to what I was doing and what she had found in her research, was a better fit. In that way, my question was not answered but I was given insight into differing author’s own perspective on the types of research approaches that we learned in class and how they can differ within different fields of study.

We also discussed the use of narratives to get to my idea of “women’s decisions”. In discussing our subjects, her’s being men in Cote’D’ivoire and mine being mothers, we talked about the importance of how such narratives are framed and being aware to avoid Western constructions of saviorism in developing regions. A book she recommended and one that I consider relevant to my research, Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses by Chandra Talpade Mohanty, highlights this construction of the “3rd World Woman”[1] as helpless and lacking agency. The book outlines how to engage in gender narratives that avoid assumptions and legitimize women in their own environment and situations. This conversation was incredibly important for me to have with Prof. Matlon because I want to be intentional and aware of the decisions I’m making throughout this process so as to contribute to the new thining and perspectives rather than reinforce certain types of thinking.

Toward the end of our discussion, Prof. Matlon and I discussed the limitations and constraints of research projects , especially, on the undergraduate level. I expressed my concern about such challenges and Prof. Matlon emphasized that learning to navigate within these limitations and using constraints as an opportunity for better research. Her advice was to remain analytical and strategic as well as critical in terms of using primary resources.

I think my biggest challenge moving forward and lesson from speaking with Prof. Matlon, is this understanding of the literature not only surrounding my exact topic but of every aspect and angle. The creation of my literature review is not just on the topic but the surrounding debate on narratives, on women, on infants, etc that will ultimately contribute to my overarching puzzle and topic. I  need to start to dissect my own topic and the many facets that I want to add and the narrative that I want to create.


[1] Talpade Mohanty, C. (1984). Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses. Boundary 2, 12(3). Retrieved from

Research Portfolio Post #1: My Research Interests

My research topic is female infanticide in South Asia and intends to highlight the role gender plays in the decisions women are making and the development and elevation of women’s status in society

I’ve only ever looked at infanticide through the context of China’s One-Child Policy or Post War Korea but I wanted to redirect my interest to South Asia to further understand infanticide as an evolving and global act.  Initially, my interest was to create a well-rounded understanding of the subject and reinforce much of the current knowledge of infanticide but in doing so I realized It would be a disservice to the true survivors of infanticide, the women and mothers both indirectly and directly involved in choosing to kill their own children.

My interest became a mission to create a narrative that looks deeper into the women making these decisions and the role society plays in reinforcing/ coercing these decisions. Therefore, I’m interested in the interaction and interplay between gender and society; putting women at the center as actors navigating and responding within these roles that society has put them in and pair these constraints with their own potential to overcome these societal expectations as a possible solution and or alternative to infanticide.

Coming to this idea that if we can understand the decisions women are making, we can greater understand the role that women play as both as a consequence and an indicator of development.

My research interest was inspired by Indian Economist, Amartya Sen, article  More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing which exposed the 100 Million women who were ‘missing’ or ‘lost’ due to either infanticide or poor health and related to high mortality rates.  Sen outlined how the current literature was not getting to the true ‘loss’ and impact factors leading to and revolving infanticide not only have on women but on their status and position in greater society [1]. The article sought to create a new narrative and conversation to a reality that many must face and I was inspired by Sen’s efforts and focus on women’s social and economic development.

In furthering my own research interests and process I wish to look more at even the context of infanticide scholarship and the perspectives and lenses in which female infanticide is written. Rather, looking to understand infanticide, not as a lack of women but an active decision in choosing boys over girls and less emphasis on why boys are chosen but more on why girls are not. The questions of why girls are consistently not the default.

I look forward to working with Olson Faculty to better outline my interests and topics and grow into a topic that is worthy of its content.




[1] Sen A. More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing. The New York Review of Books. 1990.